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Nurse with motor neurone disease provides evidence in assisted dying case

Alison Pickard, a nurse with motor neurone disease, has provided evidence to the high court in support of assisted dying. 
Assisted dying

A nurse with motor neurone disease (MND) has provided evidence for a high court hearing about assisted dying being heard this week.

Alison Pickard was diagnosed with MND more than five years ago and worked her last shift as a nurse for a GP out of hours service provider at the start of this year.

She has provided written evidence in support of a case being brought by Noel Conway, a retired lecturer who has MND and is challenging the current law on assisted dying.

Right to choice

Mr Conway was diagnosed with MND in November 2014 and feels that he is being prevented from exercising his right to choice and control over his death under the current

A nurse with motor neurone disease (MND) has provided evidence for a high court hearing about assisted dying being heard this week.


Supporters of Noel Conway who is challenging the current law on assisted dying at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Picture: Press Association

Alison Pickard was diagnosed with MND more than five years ago and worked her last shift as a nurse for a GP out of hours service provider at the start of this year.

She has provided written evidence in support of a case being brought by Noel Conway, a retired lecturer who has MND and is challenging the current law on assisted dying.

Right to choice

Mr Conway was diagnosed with MND in November 2014 and feels that he is being prevented from exercising his right to choice and control over his death under the current law.

He is supported by charity Dignity in Dying and is being represented by law firm Irwin Mitchell in his fight to have the option of an assisted death when he is in his final six months of life.

The Suicide Act 1961 makes it an offence to assist in a suicide and the judges will be considering whether current legislation breaches human rights law.  

Avoiding 'bad' deaths

Ms Pickard, who was a nurse for over 42 years, is one of several witnesses who have provided evidence to support Mr Conway’s case.

She told Nursing Standard ahead of the hearing: ‘I decided to give evidence because I have seen too many “bad” deaths during my nursing career.

‘I feel that my experience as a nurse has allowed me to look at the issue of assisted dying from both sides of the fence. I know that it is not possible to provide perfect symptom relief for all end of life symptoms.

‘People tend to think that the only distressing end of life symptom is pain. This is far from the case, particularly with neurological conditions such as MND, when difficulty breathing and communicating are huge issues along with total immobility.’

Quality of life

Ms Pickard, from Nottinghamshire, is still able to walk around the house, but uses a mobility scooter and needs help with things like dressing, cooking and cutting food as her left hand has very little function.

Although she currently has no problems with speech, swallowing or breathing, she uses voice recognition technology as her typing is a lot slower than it was.

She added: ‘I consider that life is for living rather than existing. When I am no longer able to do things that give me quality of life, such as move independently do the things I want to do, speak, eat, wash and go to the toilet independently, my quality of life will be very poor.

Opposition

‘In short, I believe that it is up to each individual to decide at which point life has become intolerable and choose to end it.

‘I am still in touch with many of my nursing colleagues, most of them are both understanding and supportive of my views.’

Mr Conway’s case is expected to be heard over four days this week at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

The case is opposed by the secretary of state for justice, with groups Humanists UK, Care Not Killing and Not Dead Yet UK also making submissions.

A ruling is not expected until the autumn.

Equal right to life

Not Dead Yet UK, which opposes attempts to legalise assisted suicide for disabled and terminally ill people, said it recognised and empathised with Mr Conway's fears for his future but could not support his action.

Speaking before the hearing started, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, one of its founders, said: 'We have successfully seen off attempts to change the law on assisted suicide in parliament.

'Now we must change tactics to ensure the courts continue to uphold our equal right to life.

'Terrifying prospect'

'The law must not be weakened via the back door.'

Co-founder Phil Friend said: 'A change in the law is a terrifying prospect to the vast majority of disabled and terminally ill people who work hard towards achieving equality for all.

'Until we have reached that objective, assisted suicide will remain a dangerous and prejudiced option, likely to increase suffering and distress.'


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